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Yes, I’m Having an Identity Crisis.



Yes, I’m having an identity crisis. No, it’s not the one you think.

September 11th 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

That Thursday morning, after I finished giving a talk, I took a call from my doctor and took the rest of the afternoon off. With that call, an ancillary characteristic of me became the focal point of my next 4 months.

Mammograms. Get them.  No, really, stop here and write yourself a note.

Because my cancer was caught early, I had the luxury of time to consider options… I scheduled my surgery 6 weeks out. Immediately after a conference I was planning.

Spoiler.  I’m lucky.  Extraordinarily lucky.

I chose a double mastectomy because the most important outcome for me was “event free survival”.  I was graced all the best possible outcomes.  The surgical pathology found nothing in my lymph nodes except tattoo ink. I needed no chemo; no radiation.

The struggle.  What is my identity?

But, what I want to talk about is the question I was asked most in both the lead up to surgery and post surgery. “Are you having an identity crisis?”

No, I’m not having an identity crisis. But, what do you mean by “my identity”? To me, this question presumed a lot about the value of women in society.  After all, no one asked me about my identity when i got my appendix out or when I broke my foot.

I am… No, really, what is my identity?

I am what I do.  How I contribute to the world. How I support my friends and my partner.  I am a thinker. I am a creator. I am a community member.  I am a supporter.  I am a traveler.

I am confused.

And everyone kept asking “Are you having an identity crisis?”

Suddenly, in spheres where I expected to be valued for my contribution i had to introduce conversations about my secondary sexual characteristics

How Would i know?

I continued to answer “No, i’m not having an identity crisis.  I went back to work 3 weeks after the surgery. I was actually *happier* with my shape than before the surgery. But, I couldn’t think.  I had no stamina. I had the attention span of a single crossword puzzle clue.

Who am I? Crap, I *am* having an identity crisis.

If I can’t write an articulate sentence, or i’m 3000 emails behind, or if I can’t meet a commitment I made …  Am I less? Am I me? What is my value?

Societal cues suck.

With my internal cues failing, I looked outside. But, I am not my shape or my bank account.  I am not only my accomplishments.  Media and peer groups amplify fears to persuade and control. Societal cues seem to support the voices in my head that said I wasn’t good enough.  Advertising suggests I *need* to purchase things to be smarter or prettier or stronger.  It supports my feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome.  “I’m not as smart as they are”.  “I’m not $measure as she is…”

Fear Manifest.  I’m not good enough.

When I was asked “Are you having an identity crisis?” I heard fears that my friends had bought into. Fears that our values were tied to specific characteristics.

I’m an adult struggling with this.  I have had years to evaluate and decide what I value in myself. And, yet, being asked “Are you having an identity crisis” challenged me.  What are we reflecting to the younger people around us. What about the next generations?  What are our biases teaching them? Can we stop them from absorbing our fears and societal expectations?

January 2015.  

My brain returned, and I could see my stamina increasing.  Life began to return to normal. I could hold a conversation.  I could stay up past 6pm. I was 2 pounds closer to being a fierce skinny old lady.

I am changed.  And still prone to over commitment.  As I struggled with this identity question, my step father quippily reminded me that we are human be-ings not human do-ings.

I am.

Today, I try to treat myself as I would treat a friend. Valuing my be-ing without judgement even as what i do in the world changes.


mysql community pitch




another video.  this time, from oracle about the mysql community.  it was recorded at OOW last fall.

where is your data cached and where should it be cached?



a big thanks go out to the team for an awesome event.

new adventures



summers always are big transition times for me.  last year i wrote about my transition to evangelism and this year i get to write about changes again.

this summer i decided to go looking for the next thing.  i did a lot of brainstorming and mind-mapping to find out what i wanted.  it turned out i wanted many things.  to those of you who know me well, this isn’t a surprise.  but it did present a bit of a problem.

seattle graffitti

i want to found a new company.  i have an idea or 10 but there are some skills that i’m lacking.  i considered starting a company anyway. recognizing that i’ll never know all i want  to know, i thought about it a lot.  ultimately, after a few weeks of conversations and lots of long hard thinking i decided i wanted to spend some time in a product company, first.

so, its official this is big transition time.

i’ve left the staff of BlueGecko after almost 11 years.  i’ll remain on the board and active in the MySQL community but my day-to-day work will only tangentially be related MySQL.  tomorrow i start a new role at Opscode i’ll begin by building their sales engineering team and learning Chef from soup to nuts.  I’ll get to spend time with customers trying to do product development and i’ll get to spent time with product people.

all this will move forward my skills in a new and exciting direction.  i can’t think of a better way to spend labor day than to consider my new opportunities and look excitedly to the empty frame of my next adventure.

ignite seattle #14 – og lifestyle



how many of you identify as geeks?  hands up….  I’m going to talk about us.
Hi, my name is sarah and I’m a geek and an entrepreneur.

Being obsessed a bit by language, I want to make sure we have common definition for geek.  in this diagram from mashable years ago, they identify geeks as the people in the intersection of the intelligent and the obsessed minus the socially inept.

if we use this as the working definition of geeks, then much of geekiness is about some sort of control.  how to make order or habit out of the world around us – how to live the geek lifestyle. i’m going to add one more characteristic to obsessed and intelligent. i’m going to add creative.

the proliferation of hacker spaces and competitions are examples of that. as are the innumerable startups here in seattle.  even without the glory of the valley or the alley, geeks are intelligently and obsessively creating here every day.

this modern geek renaissance is certainly not the first and won’t be the last. geeks and the geek lifestyle have been around as long as people have had extra time after providing food and shelter.  one of my favorite geek forefathers is ben franklin

ben was an entrepreneur, inventor, thinker, publisher and one of the earliest documented quantified self-ers – he was a prolific diarist who tracked many different aspects to his day. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

what is quantified self?  this is a relatively new name for an old idea. treating the self as a system to be monitored and improved through collection and analysis of data.  totally geek lifestyle.

we have several startups in town that are working in the quantified self space. Startups that  are lead by modern ben’s considering and solving problems. But, the geek lifestyle isn’t just about tracking and tuning.

buckminster fuller had some quirky obsessive habits that contributed to his personal style.  he was well know for wearing 3 watches. he wore one for the timezone he just left, one for the current timezone and a 3rd for the one he was going to next.

i don’t think we can have a conversation about geek life and style without talking about brady forrest.  ignite is a bully pulpit for geek lifestyle!  as i’ve heard the ignite story, brady wanted to catch up on all the cool stuff people he knew were working on, and this event was born.

understanding your own obsessions and allowing creativity to seep in is the simplest way to start a project. for fun, i have collected photos of things on the ground with my converse collection highlighted.  It’s not zappos, but it’s shoe obsession.

when faced with a challenge, geeks bring a unique perspective and those intertwined and fantastic characteristics of obsession and creativity.  obsessive side projects can become global phenomena like ignite.

i challenge you then-  how do we encourage the geek lifestyle here in seattle and make it flourish? how do we use our intelligence, obsession and creativity to buff and polish seattle’s tech image and attract and grow more innovation?

Well, we need to do some analysis see where we are and then take some risks.

i want us to balance our obsessions, anchor adventures with intelligence and let creativity help seattle take it’s place among the startup epicenters.  we’re dangerously close to being there already.

barbie is now a computer scientist, so seattle can certainly be an entrepreneurial mecca. Having defined that goal, it’s much easier to focus our collective intelligence, obsession and creativity to make it happen.

if the entrepreneurs in the audience lined up we’d circle the block.  So I ask you to promote the geek lifestyle in seattle, share with the world what great geekiness is happening here.  there is the commuinity, there is the intellectual power.  And there are the raw resources of people excited about ideas

intrepreneurs, entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs.  revel in our variety, share the obsessions you have, the tools we’re creating, the ideas we’re generating.  seattle’s voice in the tech world once boomed with MSFT and amazon, it’s time to do it again.

it’s time to drive into the future (with robots).   let’s  use our skills, creative problem solving, obsession and intelligence to incubate, promote and support new ideas —  the ultimate product of the geek life. We stand out when we produce, participate in and present these ideas and projects.

Let’s make this proto-geek right.  “go ahead, make fun of me now. i’ll forgive you and hire you when we’re grownups.”  it’s time to embrace seattle’s entrepreneurial and innovative penchant and remind the VCs errr ….   The rest of the world we’re here. geek seattle, loud and proud.

update 7/23/2011 – video


silly voicemail



ignite talks as a format + my favorites



it seems that i’ve been mentioning ignite talks to everyone i speak to for the last few weeks. i’ve been a huge fan since i gave my first one at the MySQL C&E in 2010.

for those of you who might be living in a cave or not on every oreilly media mailing list, ignite talks are a specific type of lightning talk. enlighten us, but make it quick is their tagline. 5 minutes, 20 slides, auto-advancing every 15 seconds. it’s usually spectacular or a spectacle.

this year i was able to mc the ignite talks at the 2011 MySQL C&E, will be giving an ignite talk on geek lifestyle at ignite seattle 14 on may 18th and then mcing and presenting at OSCON’s ignite show in july.

but, the things i’ve been mentioning to everyone over the last weeks as i describe how much i enjoy ignite talks are some of my favorite talks that from the last few years. so– here are my top 5 ignite talks:

  1. why i love my 3d printer (and you will too) – Schuyler St. Leger
  2. flashmob gone wrong – Tom Scott
  3. the secret underground world of lego – Hillel Cooperman
  4. lymphomartini – Tom Music (sadly, tom died from complications of his illness almost a week ago on 4/17/2011)
  5. how to write 1000 words – Scott Berkun

i hope you enjoy and find an ignite show near you (there are more than 100 cities that have these events regularly).

notes from my press training



thanks to Kristen Miller from Tech Image for preparing me for my first press interview!  I’ve collected her bits of wisdom below with my notes about the mysql council announcement

1.  have a central theme

  • creation of the mysql council
  • why was this created.
  • ioug saw opening and wanted to bridge between mysql/oracle

2.  talk in soundbites.

  • a bit of tech jargon is ok
  • concrete
  • don’t use overly long analogies

3. don’t use this space for an ad

  • deliver news
  • be respectful of reporter and her goal of unbiased testament

4  answer or refer or followup

  • reporter isn’t in total control
  • ok to say I’d like to double-check or followup
  • easy out – andy a better person to answer that question

5.  dead space is ok.

  • reporter might be writing notes
  • this can be a tactic to elicit unguarded ramblings

bonus: cheat, have the press release in front of you.

thanksgiving and filberts



today i am thankful for all the things i have accomplished this year, all the wonderful people in my world that support me in the things i attempt, all the joy and excitement and pain and experiences i have to learn from, and lastly for the opportunity to continue to learn and grow and improve myself and the world i’m part of.

i’m filled with a sense of gratitude as i sit at a friend’s house quietly watching deer graze in the front yard and cargo ships pass in the bay considering how each day presents possibility and how for that i will be eternally grateful.




words differently arranged have different meanings, and meanings differently arranged have a different effect. -Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician (1623-1662)